Monday, 31 August 2009

On Writing, Editing and Slush

I caught up with David Kernot this weekend and we had an interesting chat about science fiction, from both the author and editor viewpoints. I’ve edited Cthulhu’s Dark Cults and have another book in the works for a US publisher, and David is a member of the Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine Co-op, and he’s editing Issue 47, so we’ve both got some practical experience behind us now on the editing front. At the same time we both write, predominately science fiction with about 50 published stories between us.

David told me that when he reads slush he tends to read the first and last pages before he reads anything else. This allows him to see if the story grabs him from the onset, and whether it concludes itself in an interesting manner. I thought this was a rather novel approach and started thinking about how he might perceive some of my stories read that way.

My viewpoint on slush is that I believe dialogue is important, and that I like to see it early on in a story. I don’t believe there is any better tool to create a character than dialogue and to propell a story along in real time (as opposed to telling a story after the events have occurred as Victorian Era writers were fond of doing). I also like the first line to grab me, something unusual, something that makes me sit-up and go, ‘oh, that’s interesting’ and want to keep reading.

It’s nice to have discussions like this with one’s peers. Writing and editing can be a very isolated experience and sometimes it takes an outsider to point out new approaches that can make a world of difference in the products (stories, books) we each produce.

So David and I have decided to collaborate on a short story, and see what new ideas come from that.

Friday, 14 August 2009

To Collaborate or not to Collaborate

Through my writing career I’ve ended up collaborating with various authours, and while I’ve gained much from the experience, I know many authors out there are reluctant to do so. Not me it seems. I’ve worked with Brian M. Sammons (“Stomach Acid” and “Six-Legged Shadows”), John Goodrich (“The Masked Messenger”), David Witteveen (“Sweat as Decay”), John Sunseri (“The Spiraling Worm”) and John Kenny (an unpublished science fiction piece) and I’ve enjoyed what I’ve got out of each collaboration and the end story we’ve created. I’ve also discussed the possibility with other authors of doing collaborations, including with David Kernot and C.J. Henderson, if we can ever get the time.

What I find works well for me is what I have learnt from the experience. Brian is taught me how to really cut to the heart of story, John Goodrich on how to tell a story without explicitly telling it, David in writing sincint poetical scenes, John Sunseri how to make language and character create a style all of its own, and John Kenny the importance of pace and reflective prose. I’ve learnt much more from each of these authors than just what I’ve listed, here I’m illustrating particular elements of learning that were unexpected for me in the process. The end result is that I feel that I’m a better writer because of these experiences, and it also taught me how to be humble and not so hung up on the in’s and out’s of a particular story. Oh, and to let a story tell itself.

The other reason I like collaborating is because of the creativity it allows.

I’m currently writing another novella with Brian M. Sammons, which is the reason for this post. I’m finding that even before we’ve started ideas are just flowing all over the place and we feed off each other’s perspective, so much so that the tale just seems to write itself. We are both very excited about where it is headed.

Most of my collaborations have been with horror and dark fantasy writers, a genre that seems to bring authors together rather than creating a sometimes overly negative competitive environment that I’m finding in some speculative fiction ‘scenes’. From my experience horror and dark fantasy writers tend to get excited about what each other are writing, and want to share. How nice is that!

Collaboration can potentially create its own problems. For example my most successful series, the Harrison Peel spies versus the Cthulhu Mythos series (The Spiraling Worm) is not a sole-creation of my own, but one that had a genesis with John Sunseri and now with Brian M. Sammons, C.J. Henderson and John Goodrich. We’ve all agreed that our characters are our own (mine is Harrison Peel, John Sunseri’s in Jack Dixon, C.J. Henderson is Joan De Molina and Brian M. Sammons’ is Jordan - amongst others) and that we need to seek permission to use each other’s characters, but we also agree that we can each pretty much do whatever we like in this shared world setting. So what happens if I get a movie or game deal for The Spiraling Worm (not saying it is likely, but it is a possibility), what do we do then? Hopefully we’ll all get financial rewarded, and that’s what I’d like to see.

So leading on from this point, I’ve decided that some series I will collaborate on (such as the Harrison Peel series) and some I won’t which I want to hold complete control over (such as my Earth Central series for example featuring stories including “Black Water”, “Aftermath”, “The Entropy Collapse”, “Terraformer”, “The Octagon” and others). Of course stories that aren’t part of any series (“Sweat as Decay”) don’t really matter, they are stand alones, but fun to write nonetheless.

Fun times ahead, seeing where all this collaboration business goes.

David Kernot to Edit an Issue of Andromeda Spaceways

I just got news that my good writing friend David Kernot is going to be editing his own issue of Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine next year. David recently joined the ASIM co-op, where he is a regular reviewer, and it looks like all his hard work has paid off. Congratulations David, looking forward to your issue.

Recommended Reading: Dead Souls from Mark S. Deniz

Mark S. Deniz's latest anthology from Morrigan Books, Deal Souls, has just been released, the book with the creepy cover of a spider crawling over an eyeball. It features stories from Ramsey Campbell, Paul Finch, Gary McMahon and many others. The theme focuses on people without souls, who have taken the darker path in life. The possibilities...

I always like to see anthologies with strong themes yet broad enough to capture both the writers and readers imagination, and I'm certain this is what Dead Souls does. I'm sure it will do well.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Stomach Acid: An Extract

An extract from Brian M. Sammons and my short story in Cthulhu Unbound 2 follows:

Harrison Peel woke awkwardly, worried that he sensed ripples of déjà vu. The dirty hotel room with giant bugs scampering on the ceiling remained familiar, and the air sweating like an exerted fat man in this tropical heat was as oppressive as the moment before he drifted into sleep. It was his body clock was worried him. He felt as if it were late afternoon even though his watch said early morning. Had his watch failed? Had he slept all day and not noticed?

Sitting up brought stomach acid to his throat. Then he gagged. The nausea so bad he hoped only to vomit. Several moments of retching brought up nothing, and still the nausea would not abate. To counter the acid, he drank sterile water from his canteen. He choked on that too, vomited it up as he did.

Out of bed, peering into the broken mirror, Peel saw a haggard man. He saw himself as if he were a terminally ill cancer patient. Not the self-image he had witnessed in the same mirror yesterday when he had felt good and fighting fit. What had happened to him? It terrified him that he did not know.

It was then glancing over his shoulder that he noticed the tall gangly man.

Without hesitation Peel spun his whole body, pinned the intruder against a wall. One hand locked an arm so it would be a painful exercise to resist, the other pressed against the windpipe so he could kill without effort.

"If I die, Major," the stranger gasped, "so do you."

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Cthulhu Unbound 2: Harrison Peel is Back

Cthulhu Unbound 2 edited by Thomas Brannan my good friend John Sunseri has just been released by Permuted Press and you can purchase it here. This is a series of genre-blending tales with the Cthulhu Mythos as the central link between all stories. The first volume has been very successful and well received. I'm glad to have been part of the second volume.

My story in this book is written with another good friend Brian M. Sammons and it is called "Stomach Acid". This tale features former Australian Army Intelligence officer Major Harrison Peel from The Spiraling Worm, a collection/novel which I incidentally penned with John Sunseri.

In the heart of the Amazonian rainforests, Major Peel is blackmailed, when a human agent of an alien species compromises his life expectancy. The only way that Peel can live beyond a single day is to turn against the American agent, code-named Jordan, who hired him to act again the very menace that now controls Peel.